Subtrope of Hollywood Law. You've been arrested. You might be entirely innocent, you might be guilty as hell, but there are certain things you can count on. Someone will be Reading Your Rights, perhaps with some modifications for the purposes of humour. You'll get cuffed, taken down to the station and questioned. And you have the right to one phone call, no more, no less; even if the call doesn't go through due to some technical glitch (or is interrupted by a Corrupt Hick or the like), you don't get a second call.
You're expected to use this to call your lawyer, or your mother, or your sister, or whatever, and if you're in a drama, you probably will. If you're in a comedy, and the arrest was for harassing someone over the phone, you'll most likely ring them. If the arrest was for something else, you'll likely just order a pizza. If you're The Joker, everybody else better take cover.
Naturally, Real Life is not like this. You are not necessarily entitled to a phone call, although police are often perfectly happy to give them because people often incriminate themselves over the phone. In most jurisdictions, phone calls are privileges. The police can let you make many (if you're nice and cooperative) all the way down to none (if you're being a jerk). However, you do have the right to an attorney at any time—and the police more or less have to let you call that person enough times to get in touch and make sure that they're on their way. So if you can't get a hold of anyone on the phone, it's not like you'll just have to wait until someone on the outside notices you're missing.
- In one MAD strip, a man is arrested for making an obscene phone call, and uses his phone call to make another obscene phone call.
- Jem fanfic "Hard Luck Story" featured the Misfits in jail after the events of KJEM. Each Misfit had one phone call. Pizzazz said she'd use hers to call a judge who was her godfather in hopes he'd pull some strings. She asked Jetta to call Eric Raymond and tell him to go to hell and then ask him to help. She asked Stormer to call Pizzazz's Dad because Stormer was the Misfit he liked the best. Pizzazz didn't believe Roxy would be of any help but asked her to call Clash anyway. Stormer wanted to use her phone call on her brother Craig instead of Pizzazz father so it was Roxy who phoned Gabor Manor.
- In A Gem Of A Day, Applejack gets one after she and Rarity are arrested for breaking into Suri Polomare's house. She uses it to call Sunset Shimmer to come bail them out.
- Chapter 34 of The Shocker Legit has the following line: "If you've only got one phone call, make it to the Punisher. One word: Help."
- The Dark Knight: In accordance with procedure as stated above, the Joker is not given his phone call. He goes to some lengths to get it... which he uses to escape from jail by calling a cell phone implanted within one of his gang members, detonating a bomb connected to it and destroying a large portion of the prison.
The Joker: I want my phone call. I want it. I want my phone call.Detective Stephens: That's nice.
- RoboCop (1987): Clarence Boddicker is dragged, bloodied, into the police station by Robo. Having been introduced as a cop killer, he's given a hard stare by all the cops. In response, he contemptuously spits blood onto the countertop and says "Just give me my fucking phone call.", with the clear (and correct) implication that he'll be on the street again in minutes.
Clarence: Okay. I give up.Robocop: I'm not arresting you anymore.
- However, given that the next time they meet Robocop is absolutely through with fucking around, Clarence might have been better off staying in jail.
- The Matrix: "How about I give you the finger (proceeds to flip the bird at Agent Smith) and you give me my phone call?" Smith makes it so Neo doesn't need it; after all, what good is a phone call...if you're unable to speak?
- Ramon gets one in Hackers. As fits his phone phreak persona, he waits until the guard leaves, calls an operatornote , and gets her to connect him to a completely different number than the one that was originally dialed for him.
- Hannibal Lektor pulls a similar stunt in Manhunter when he's given a phone to call his lawyer — he instead rewires the phone (it has no dial) so he can make another call to find out where the protagonist lives.
- Bernard And The Genie has a variant where Bernard is arrested, and rather than calling a lawyer, he tries to call his genie friend Josephus, since he can hopefully fix things with his magic. Unfortunately Josephus has been trapped in a bottle for two millennia and doesn't know how phones work; first he doesn't notice the phone, then he watches it in fear, and when he finally realizes it stops making noise if you lift and drop the receiver, he starts doing that instead. (Bernard is allowed to make calls until he actually reaches someone, apparently.) Meanwhile the police think that the whole thing is an elaborate code designed to stop them from listening in.
- In Double Take, Darrel Chase is arrested in Mexico for the murder of the local governor, after stealing the identity of Freddie Tiffany (who was framed by the Big Bad). When brought before the local police chief, who offers him a cigar and a drink (arresting such a high profile criminal will mean promotions for the entire precinct). Darrel then tells the chief that he wants a phone call. His reply is a burst of laughter from the Mexican cops, who remind him that he's not in America and doesn't get a phone call. They even ask him (in a sarcastic manner) if he would like Johnnie Cochran for a lawyer, implying that he doesn't get a lawyer either. Of course, it's entirely possible that the Mexican cops aren't familiar with American laws and get their information from the same place the public does — TV.
- Candyman: Played with. After Helen is arrested by the police on murder charges and informed of her Miranda rights, she asks for a phone call to contact her husband, but it's never stated that she has any rights to one or that it's the only one she'll get.
- The main character in A Pure Formality (1994) makes a huge fuzz about being denied his phone call.
- In Kingsman: The Secret Service, Eggsy uses his one phone call to call in the favor Harry Hart had promised when he gave Eggsy his father's medal. He's allowed to walk free and this sets the plot of the movie in motion.
- Late in Scream (1996), Sidney asks Billy who he called with his one phone call from jail, and muses to him about how crafty it would've been to use it to call her in the killer's voice, thereby throwing suspicion off of himself.
- The Hitcher (1986). The protagonist (who's delivering a car across the United States) is arrested on suspicion of the murders actually committed by the serial killer (the eponymous hitchhiker). He asks the police to call the car dealership to verify his story. The police do so, but hang up when no-one answers, despite protests that they should have let it ring longer.
- Beyond the Reach (2014). The Corrupt Corporate Executive uses his call to arrange for his private helicopter to land nearby, so he'll have a means of escape after doing a Bathroom Breakout from police custody.
- In Eric Bronner's short-short story, "Everything's Under Control", the protagonist gets one call to organize a solution to his elephant problem.
Listen, I'm in jail — but I'm not asking for bail this time. I just need you to make some phone calls since I only get the one.First, call the administrative offices at the zoo, tell them the baby elephant is not missing. ...
- Averted in Goth Girl Rising, the sequel to The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl: When Kyra is arrested, she does make only one phone call (to Fanboy), which doesn't go through, but the arresting officer agrees to let her use the police station's computer to contact Fanboy through instant messenger.
- In the novelisation of Sudden Impact, a criminal arrested by Dirty Harry keeps arrogantly demanding his phone call, but can't get through to the person he wants (the local police chief whom he's blackmailing, but who refuses to pick up the phone). As he's allowed a phone call that connects, the police have to let him keep trying — eventually he calls another member of his gang who can bail him out.
- In the Left Behind book Armageddon, Chloe Williams is given a cell-phone by a janitor working for the Global Community while she was incarcerated, saying that she could make one phone call with it if she desired, like police departments used to allow their prisoners. Chloe takes the opportunity to use the cell-phone to call her father Rayford and warn him in a coded message about the San Diego safehouse where part of the Tribulation Force are located.
- Our Miss Brooks: In "Bobbsey Twins In Stir", Miss Brooks, Mr. Boynton and Mr. Conklin are all locked up in gaol for selling forged tickets to the policeman's ball. They pool their change, so they can use their one phone call to contact the head of the board of education, Mr. Stone (Mr. Stone lives in the country, thus it's a toll call). Lo and behold, before they're finished counting their change Mr. Stone is brought to gaol, having also been caught selling fraudulent tickets!
- In a sketch in Not the Nine O'Clock News, Mel Smith has been arrested for making obscene phone calls. Given his One Phone Call, he calls a woman and starts heavy breathing at her.
- Seinfeld had a gag about using the One Phone Call to call a girlfriend.
- The Partridge Family: Reuben is arrested, his "one phone call" is to the Partridges but the only one in is Tracey, who's busy watching cartoons. She hangs up on him. "Does that have to count? She's only eight!"
- Matlock was arrested once and got two phone calls (although depending on how you look at it, it could have been considered only one). He called information to get the number of a lawyer friend of his (Matlock was out of town at the time), then called that lawyer but got an answering machine so he left a message. He was about to make his third call but the officer watching him said "that's your limit" or words to that effect.
- The Dick Van Dyke Show: Rob gets arrested, he knows his wife is out so he calls his next door neighbor, where he gets their babysitter. He gives her the message and she puts a note on the Petrie door: "Your husband is in jail."
- Barney Miller: After being arrested for making obscene phone calls a man used his one phone call to make one last obscene call to the policewoman who arrested him.
- The pilot episode of the original Knight Rider showed Michael making his one phone call after being arrested for a bar fight. Cue the sheriff (who is on the take to the Big Bads) cutting him off mid-call.
- Cited on Soap: when Burt is abducted by Aliens as they put him in his cell he claims that he gets one phone call.
- The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: Will and Carlton were arrested. Will used his call to phone Geoffrey, who was so upset about having his day off interrupted that he hung on Will before listening. Carlton called his Dad but he and his friends were so entertained by a game on TV they didn't listen. Will and Carlton got their attention by making a deal with the authorities: they'd confess if they got to do it during a live broadcast interrupting the game transmission.
- In Misfits, Nathan gets arrested for cheating at a casino. He uses his one phone call to call Simon for help, but Rudy answers the phone. When Nathan asks for "Barry" (his nickname for Simon), Rudy says he doesn't know anybody named Barry and hangs up on him.
- The trope was once referred to in a Family Feud question during the Richard Dawson era. "If you were arrested and could make only one phone call, who would you call?" The game-winning answer: the bail bondsman.
- Person of Interest:
- In "Search and Destroy", Samaritan changes police records so the Victim of the Week will be arrested, then transferred to a maximum security prison where he can be killed. He demands the right to a phone call, but Samaritan has altered the record to say he's already had his call.
- Denied in "The Day the World Went Away". An FBI agent tells Finch that if he names an attorney, they'll make the call for him. Of course, the Machine prevents Finch from being taken into holding, and then calls him.
- The Professionals. In "Fall Girl", Bodie has been framed for a political assassination, and is hauled into the local nick by Special Branch. A three-way argument over this trope breaks out, with Bodie demanding his phone call (so he can tell Cowley where he is), Special Branch refusing until they have his fingerprints (which they intend to plant on the crime scene) and the desk sergeant refusing to hold Bodie incommunicado without authorization. Eventually they allow Bodie to make the call in exchange for his prints.
- Mama's Family: When Mama is mistaken for a homeless person and arrested for vagrancy, she demands to call her family, telling the cop, "I've watched enough L.A. Law to know that I'm allowed one phone call!"
Crowley: Any more complaints?
- In "Slash Fiction", Sam and Dean Winchester have been framed by Evil Twin shapeshifters for various spree killings. After being arrested, Dean pleads "just give me one, one phone call." The sheriff is inclined to refuse, but holds Dean's phone up to the bars and is completely dumbfounded by the subsequent discussion with Bobby Singer on how to kill monsters with decapitation and cleaning fluids. He decides that Dean is insane and cuts short the call...until he sees the shapeshifters eating one of his fellow officers.
- In "A Little Slice of Kevin", several people are abducted by the demon Crowley. One of them is Wrong Genre Savvy and demands his right to a phone call. Crowley makes him vomit blood and die.
- The Ray Stevens song "It's Me Again, Margaret" is about an obscene phone caller who keeps calling the title character until he gets arrested. He uses his phone call to call her one last time before he's jailed.
- The Was (Not Was) song "Dad I'm in Jail"
- Tom T. Hall's "A Week In a County Jail" mentions that when he is booked, "They let me call one person on the phone." Thinking he would be there for only one night, he called his boss "to tell him I'd be off, but not for long."
- In a Dilbert comic, this trope is applied to the pound as part of the Pounds Are Animal Prisons trope. Dogbert used his phone call to hire a wrecking company to destroy the building.
- In one Blondie Sunday strip, Dagwood has tickets to a sporting event, but everyone he tries to invite is going somewhere else. He tries to sell his extra ticket and gets arrested for ticket scalping. The judge gives him one phone call, but he doesn't take it. No one was home.
- A The Wizard of Id has a character making his one phone call to a law firm, whose name is so long that his time limit on the call is up before he can actually ask to talk to anyone.
- Lenny Henry did a routine about being arrested by the police and told he was allowed one phone call. "So I phoned my Uncle in Jamaica 'cos I haven't spoken to him in years"
- In one of the original drafts of the stage adaptation of The Producers, Franz Liebkind's exit line when he gets arrested was going to be, "I get vun phone call, ja? Does anyvun know ze area code for Argentina?"
- In Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, Max is having a nightmare where he's being interrogated by his fellow officers to confess to the murder of his wife and daughter. His response: "Do I get my phone call?"
- In the Batman: Arkham Knight post-game DLC "Catwoman's Revenge", Catwoman breaks into Riddler's secret hideout as payback for using her as bait for Batman (complete with an Explosive Leash). As she gets into the base, Riddler uses his One Phone Call to try and activate a prison break protocol. Hilarity Ensues, between his Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness messing up his computer ("Error. Do not understand exigent/immured/run/argh.") and his desperate attempts to keep the police from realizing that he isn't actually talking to his lawyer.
- When Dwayne is speaking with two of the police officers investigating the GPF fire in General Protection Fault, and they are starting to imply that he caused it for insurance, he tells them that he shouldn't answer any more questions without speaking to his lawyer. One of them then takes out a pair of handcuffs and says that Dwayne will "one phone call to reach him," indicating that he's under arrest.
- El Goonish Shive: Variant. When the MIB collects Elliot, Ellen, and Ashley after an incident, Ellen demands her phone call. The agent says (a little exasperated) that they're not under arrest or even in trouble, he just wants to figure out what happened. Ellen clarifies that she wants to call her super-powerful girlfriend to let her know she's okay, to keep her from tearing the city in half looking for her. The agent quickly agrees.
- Subverted by The Simpsons. In the episode "Homer at the Bat," the Springfield Police Department arrest Steve Sax for every unsolved crime that ever took place where he lives in New York City. When he asks the cops about the one phone call, Lou the Cop quips, "You watch too many movies."
- The Replacements: Buzz found Riley's cell phone and tricked Conrad into replacing people thinking it was Riley's request. When a cop tried to arrest Buzz for vandalism, Buzz claimed his right to make a phone call and used it to have the cop replaced.
- In the Wish Kid episode "Mom, Dad, You're Fired", Nick was arrested and tried to ask for a phone call. It was at first denied under the claim it was only for adults but he eventually convinced the cops to let him use it. He used it to ask for Daryl's help.
- One episode of Hurricanes had three Hurricanes being mistaken for fugitives. While in jail, they were allowed one phone call, which they used to contact their home stadium. Topper, the team's pet monkey, answered the phone call, ruining it, and the Hurricanes were denied another chance, meaning that, since they were arrested together, it was one phone call for the group rather than one for each prisoner.
- In Kangaroo Jack: G'Day U.S.A.!, Charlie and Louis were arrested. Louis used his phone call to call for Charlie.
- In The Fairly Oddparents episode "The Big Problem", of the Oh Yeah! Cartoons era, Timmy Turner wished to be an adult. He eventually got himself arrested and used his phone call to ask for his parents' help but they wouldn't believe it was him, because they thought Vicky took him to school.
- At the end of the Justice League two-parter "Tabula Rasa," Lex Luthor calls Mercy, his former assistant and current head of LexCorp from prison, using his only phone call to demand she arrange for the best lawyers and doctors for him. Having become disillusioned with her former boss, Mercy hangs up on him.
- In the Lilo & Stitch: The Series episode "Holio", Lilo pretends to have been arrested:
Lilo: [Behind bars at Kokaua Town's jail] I know my rights! I demand a lawyer!
Officer Kahiko: Lilo, you're not under arrest. Come out of there before someone sees you.
Lilo: Not until I get my one phone call.
Officer Kahiko: I already called Nani. She's busy working, and she'll be here as soon as she can.
- Woody Woodpecker once invoked this trope before being executed by pirates. He called for help from his uncle. Who was a U.S. Army general.
- The House of Mouse short "Big House Mickey" has Mickey being falsely accused of theft and is told to make a call. He calls Goofy to help break him out.
- One episode of Gravedale High involves a court case between Max and an old woman who claims he crashed into her car. After the judge rules in favor of the woman, the class protests until all of them (except Reggie and Frankentyke) are thrown in jail for contempt of court. Max asks for his one phone call only to find out that J.P. Ghastly already used them all to sell his stocks.
- Subverted on an episode of Alvin and the Chipmunks. Alvin tries to get a private audience with the Russian ambassador, but his efforts get him, his brothers, and Dave thrown in jail. Dave asks for his one phone call only to be told they don't apply in espionage cases.
- On Rocko's Modern Life, Rocko's car makes one of these from the O-Town impound lot before being Prison Raped by a big purple truck.
- Sonic Boom: In "Planes, Trains, and Dude-mobiles", when Sonic, Knuckles, and Tails get arrested, Sonic tries to call Amy so she can bail them out. Not only is Amy in the middle of a battle, she thinks he's prank calling her and hangs up.
- Averted, as stated above, because assuming you've been given access to legal counsel, the phone call is at the discretion of the custodians.
- That said, in the US if you request a lawyer they cannot question you again until you speak to one, and you generally have the right to call your lawyer (or people who might reasonably know how to contact your lawyer for you).
- Averted in Nevada, at least, where you have the right to make a "reasonable number of completed telephone calls" and within 3 hours of arrest. And the minimum is actually two phone calls, one to a friend or bail agent, and one to an attorney (unless they happen to be the same person). (NRS 171.153)
- There's a Text From Last Night about someone who used his phone call to order pizza for the station and was given a ride home in a squad car as a reward. Probably fictitious, but still funny.
- This is sometimes invoked in a scam involving call forwarding.
- This tropes originates in Hollywood, because in California there is a law requiring the cops to let a prisoner have a phone call (in fact 3 different phone calls in the current version of the law).